“Dieppe – Blue Beach – Every Man Remembered”

Last week I presented a lecture at Orillia Public Library. When talking to Jayne Turvey, who had invited me to speak, she told me about her latest military history project.


Jayne is trying to find descendants of “every soldier from The Royal Regiment of Canada who landed at Dieppe on August 19, 1942.” Their goal is to “create a memorial book for the 75th Anniversary of Dieppe Raid (August 19, 2017).”


They are looking for stories, photographs and anything else that can be found to remember every man involved.


“Dieppe – Blue Beach Every Man Remembered The Royal Regiment of Canada”

“Dieppe – Blue Beach Every Man Remembered The Royal Regiment of Canada”


You can read more on their website “Dieppe – Blue Beach Every Man Remembered The Royal Regiment of Canada” and they have a Facebook page “Dieppe Blue Beach Every Man Remembered.”


“Dieppe Blue Beach Every Man Remembered”

“Dieppe Blue Beach Every Man Remembered”



If a member of your family served and fought at Dieppe then please contact Jayne to help her with her goal “Every Man Remembered.”


© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved


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Canadian First World War Entertainment Troupes – The Dumbells

Have you ever heard of the Dumbells? They were a group of men who would travel the battle grounds in the First World War and entertain the troops in the trenches. The troupe was made up of Jack Ayre, Ross Hamilton, Red Newman, Albert Plunkett and Mert Plunkett. There were other members of the group one of which was Jack MacLaren who was a neighbour of my Grandparent’s in Toronto.

Captain Merton Plunkett was the organizer of the Dumbells Troupe. They were a group of soldiers who sang, performed skits and comedy acts to entertain the troops. According to the book “Al Plunkett: The Famous Dumbell”  “…Captain at once commenced selecting his talent from Canada’s 3rd Division in France. Hence, the birth of the “Dumbells,” so named because the 3rd Division insignia was that of a “Dumbell” prominently in view on all vehicles and equipment of the 3rd Canadian Division.”[1]

The book also notes that some of the players came from: 9th & 10th Field Ambulance; 58th Battalion; 116th Battalion; 5th Cmrs; and the 52nd, 49th, 42nd, and 43rd Battalions.

The Dumbells first show did not go very well and it wasn’t until Ross Hamilton arrived on stage dressed as ‘Marjorie’ and sang a song that things turned around. The place of the first performance is uncertain. It could have been a show for General Currie when he took charge of the Canadian troops or Gouy-Servins, France in the Passchendaele sector. Others think it might have been in August 1917 at Vimy Ridge. Most believe that the Gouy-Servins was the first show.[2]

Their repertoire contained such First World War hits as “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” “Pack Up Your Old Kit Bag” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” They also played patriotic Canadian songs such as “It’s Canada (The Land for Me).” Jack Ayre penned the group’s theme song a tune called “Dumbell Rag.”[3]

It was hard work being a member of this troupe. They had to transport their own piano through the muck and over the land to the next performance. They created their own sets and costumes. They were the roadies who set up and dismantled the stage for every performance. The troupe created floodlights to help light the stage. The first floodlights were made out of candles and biscuit tins. As they became more popular they asked actresses from Britain for their old costumes so that characters like ‘Marjorie’ could come to life.

The soldiers had to return to their unit after each performance but as the performances became so important to troop morale they stayed together as a single unit. This troupe was so important to the soldiers and the players that when Leonard Young lost a leg in battle he returned to the troupe after he recuperated.

Each time the Dumbells were set to return to active service General Lipsett stepped in and reminded the powers that be the importance of this troupe. He said “Now as never before the troops need entertainment.”[4]

The Armistice did not stop the Dumbells from performing. They joined with the Princess Pat’s Comedy Company and created one large troupe. They would continue to entertain the troops who were waiting for demobilization.

It appears that “some of the other battalion concert parties were being disbanded. Colonel Adamson, O.C. of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battalion, 3rd Canadian Division, requested Captain to absorb some members of the Princess Pat’s Battalion concert party into the Dumbells. Our divisional party was to continue the entertainment of the troops to war’s end.”[5]  It was at this time that Jack MacLaren joined the group.

The group entertained the troops from 1917 until the end of the war in 1918. Their performances didn’t end there. After the war they entertained in venues across Canada and the United States. They even had a stint on Broadway. They toured North America from 1919 to 1932.[6]

You can read more about the Dumbells at the Virtual Gramophone on the Library and Archives Canada website.

You can also listen to some of their recordings at the Virtual Gramophone.

©2012 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

[1] Plunkett, Albert William; Earle Patrise. – Al Plunkett: the famous Dumbell- by Patrise Earle, as told by Al Plunkett, New York, Pageant Press (1956), page 55

[2] The Virtual Gramophone, Library and Archives Canada, (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/gramophone/028011-1007.1-e.html) viewed November 2012

[3] The Virtual Gramophone, Library and Archives Canada, (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/gramophone/028011-1007.1-e.html) viewed November 2012

[4] The Virtual Gramophone, Library and Archives Canada, (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/gramophone/028011-1007.1-e.html) viewed November 2012

[5] Plunkett, Albert William; Earle Patrise. – Al Plunkett: the famous Dumbell- by Patrise Earle, as told by Al Plunkett, New York, Pageant Press (1956), page 63

[6] The Virtual Gramophone, Library and Archives Canada, (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/gramophone/028011-1007.2-e.html) viewed November 2012

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Richard Fenton Toomey – ANZAC Day – Lest We Forget

April 25th is ANZAC Day in Australia. As a tribute to my Great Grand Uncle Richard Fenton Toomey, who fought with the ANZAC’s in Gallipoli, I am reposting this article from Remembrance Day 2011.

Remembrance Day is a very important day here in Canada. Last year I remembered my Great Grand Uncle Horace Gibson Leitch Campbell who lost his life in the First World War fighting with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. This year I will look at the accomplishments of my Great Grand Uncle Richard Fenton Toomey who was an ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps).

Richard Fenton Toomey is on the maternal side of my family. He was born in Dublin in April of 1880 to Mark Anthony Toomey and Julia Adelaide Bourne. He was the last of six children, four boys and two girls. My Great Grandmother Jane Toomey was his sister. The other siblings were Mark (who died in infancy), Louisa Alice, Mark Anthony and Walter Bourne.

How the Toomey family got to Australia is a long story and I will elaborate on that in another post. Needless to say Richard Fenton Toomey was in New South Wales to sign up for the First World War on 1 March 1915.

There are no attestation papers in his military file. The first record is an Application for a Commission in the 12th Light Horse Regiment. This states that Richard was 35 years of age, a British subject, an accountant and that he is single. Richard was six feet tall and 11 stone (154 lbs/70 kg). His next of kin is his brother Mark Toomey and their postal address was Elbana Annandale St. Annandale NSW.

Listed under military qualifications and past military service are: 5th Lancers, Assam Valley Light Horse, Chittagong [unreadable word] Rifles, Lieut. [unreadable two words] and Lieut. Army Service Corps.

The Assam Valley Light Horse was part of the Cavalry Reserve in the British Indian Army and was formed in 1891. Chittagong was in Pakistan but is now in Bangladesh. To date no British military records have been found for Richard Fenton Toomey.

Richard was made a Honourary Lieutenant and Quarter Master on 29 June 1915. On 9 August 1915 he was transferred to the 1st Australian Division, 3rd Light Horse Brigade. On 3 January 1916 he was transferred to the Army Service Corps. He was made Quarter Master and Honourary Captain on 30 April 1916 and on 1 August 1918 he was made Quarter Master and Honourary Major.

He set sail on 12 June 1915 on board the “Suevic”. On 5 September 1915 Richard was sent to Gallipoli this was the battle that defined the ANZACS and a nation.

Richard was frequently in the hospital during his time at the front. On 3 September 1916 he was sent to hospital in Port Said Egypt with Pyorhea which is an infection of the gums. He was sent on to the hospital in Serapium and then Cairo. He was sent back to his unit on 20 September 1916.

Richard was back in hospital on 20 July 1917 with septic sores. He was sent to the hospital in Alexandria. He returned to the 4th Light Horse Regiment on 27 September 1917. He was transferred back to the 12th Light Horse Regiment in November of 1917. He was sent back to hospital with dysentery in August of 1918 and invalided in September of 1918. He left Egypt on the Morvada on 29 September 1919.

According to Richard’s military file his appointment was terminated with the A.I.F. in Sydney on 31 October 1919.

There are letters found in his military file addressed to Base Records Canberra. One is dated 20 February 1939 and Richard is requesting: “For the purpose of receiving employment in N.S.W. a discharge or Certificate of Service is required. I shall be obliged if you will kindly let me have either as soon as possible.” A copy of the form he was requested to fill out is in the file. It is stamped dated 27 February 1939. Richard’s address is Lisarow NSW.

Richard writes requesting a duplicate Returned Soldiers Badge of the one he had received “around 29 August 1919 on his return to Australia.” It appears the one he was given was lost in “think bush country” and it has not been returned or found. This letter is dated 19 February 1943 and he is a public servant and the address given is 110 Phillip Street in Sydney.

In 1919 Richard Fenton Toomey married Ellie Maud Stewart in Sydney Australia. They had no children.

I have a friend who lives in the same area as Richard Fenton Toomey. There was a family story that said he had surveyed and built a road to one of the highest points between Sydney and Brisbane and that there was a park named after him. She helped me discover that there was a place called Toomey’s Walk which we believe was named after Richard Toomey. The government body responsible for this area does not know how the name came about.

There is also Toomeys Road and these are both located in the Mount Elliot area. He might have lost his Returned Soldiers Badge while surveying this area.

She contacted the local history librarian at Gosford City Library and he sent some pictures of Richard Fenton Toomey and his wife having tea in the garden.

They also forwarded a newspaper article which talks about Richard nearly loosing his life because he had taken poison instead of medicine. Thankfully his wife was a nurse and she knew what to do.

Some Australian newspapers are online and searchable at Trove. Advertisements were found relating to a chicken farm owned by Richard and Ellie Toomey. In 1929 Ellie was selling White Longhorn chicks and the farm was called Phoenix Poultry Farm. In 1933 she was selling Khaki Campbell’s ducklings.

In 1927 Phoenix Farm was dealing with floods.

Bush fires are a common happening in Australia. It seems that in 1928 a fire wiped out the poultry farm, residence, stock and plant owned by Richard Toomey. The name of the farm seems appropriate since it rose from the ashes to start again.

Richard Fenton Toomey died in 1968 in Gosford, New South Wales and is buried in Macquarie Park Cemetery.

Lest We Forget

©2012 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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The Veterans Website for Victoria Australia

The state of Victoria in Australia has a website devoted to their war veterans called Victorian Veterans Virtual Museum.

The Victorian War Heritage Inventory is a database that “contains information and images of sites relating to Victoria’s war history.” They currently have over 2,000 records and it is an ongoing project.

Digital Stories – In Our Words is an ongoing project to collect stories of war veterans and civilians relating to wars in Korea, WW2 Europe, POW stories, Vietnam stories, Mediterranean and Middle East stories and Pacific and New Guinea. They present a small video presentation of the interview.

They are preparing to remember the centenary of the ANZAC in the First World War and have a page dedicated to the organization of events.

Victorian War Memorials looks at the different memorials to be found in Victoria and the States efforts to restore the memorials.

There is a section for teachers and students called Preserving Veterans Heritage.

The last section is called Victorian Unit Histories which is digitizing the histories of the 30 units that were raised in Victoria during the First World War. The searchable database is on the State Library of Victoria website.

If you have people from Victoria Australia who were involved in the military then this is a place to start your search for information.

©2012 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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Have You Checked Out firstworldwar.com Yet?

The website firstworldwar.com bills itself as “a multimedia history of World War One.” There is a wealth of information to be found on this site. The page titles under the heading details are: how it began, battlefield tours, battles, an encyclopedia, source documents, special features, a timeline, war in the air, weaponry and a who’s who. Then you have other headings like multimedia, narratives and site information.

Under the multimedia heading you can find images of battlefields today, maps, propaganda posters, vintage audio and video and vintage photographs. The narratives heading provides links to examples of memoirs and diaries and prose and poetry.

You can read a collection of telegrams between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II sent in the four days before the start of the war.

There is a story called “A Slow Fuse: Hitler’s Wartime Experience” which looks at how Hitler’s experiences in the First World War shaped the man he became.

If you are looking for more information on the First World War you may find something of interest on the site. The site is a work in progress and is done in the spare time of the sites creator.

©2012 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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